Life is full of chance and coincidences. Coincidences can range from something simple like bumping into someone you haven’t seen in a while at a supermarket, to what some people call “fate” or “miracle” or “destiny”.
Mathematics will tell you that coincidences are simply the product of the law of large numbers – that it is merely a statistical event. Psychology will tell you that we are just victims of the regression fallacy. Religious people will tell you that it is an act of god.
For me, happy coincidences are just little events in life that spice things up a bit. I don’t believe in fate or destiny or some omnipotent deity, but that doesn’t mean that I treat coincidences as unimportant random events. I find that rather than dismissing it, identifying it as something good makes my life a little bit happier. Who cares if the reason that all the traffic lights were green might be a sign? Who cares if the reason that the song that JUST happens to fit my mood comes on a shuffled playlist was statistical chance? Who cares if you call meeting your soul partner destiny?
What matters to me in the end is that it happened and it made me happy. I also find identifying the coincidences and the steps that led to it happening quite interesting (because I’m a huge nerd, which I say with pride). For example, if I had decided to stick with my plan of going to Asan Hospital instead of Severance Hospital for my selective this year, I wouldn’t have met the girl that invited me to WKMSO and I wouldn’t have met the awesome people I did, nor would I have had my unforgettable NYC/Vegas adventure.
Maybe the reason it makes me happy is that knowing that if even a tiny detail was changed, say if I was put on a different shift to that person, things would have turned out quite differently. For better or for worse. But the fact is that things happened to happen in the way it did and it led to me having an amazing time.
And that my friends, is a long-winding rant-y explanation to why I love the butterfly effect.
How does a caterpillar become a butterfly? Every child and adult knows that they undergo a process of metamorphosis while in a chrysalis. But few know that the caterpillar has to dissolve all of its internal organs to form a pool of raw materials that it will use to build itself into a new butterfly. Although from the outside we only see a beautiful shell that appears to be just sitting there, in reality the caterpillar is undergoing a change so profound that it completely rebuilds its foundation.
What is interesting about the metamorphosis process is that it is not as simple as breaking down a caterpillar and rebuilding the pieces into a butterfly like one would do with Lego blocks. Once the puddle of cells is formed within the chrysalis, a new type of cells called imaginal cells appear. We do not know where they come from, but they just appear at a certain time. These cells are completely different from the original caterpillar cells – so different that the original cells begin attacking it as if it was a virus. However, even with all this cellular genocide, more and more imaginal cells pop up, until eventually the original cells cannot keep up. The imaginal cells start to cluster together, multiplying at an exponential rate. These clusters then grow and differentiate to form the parts of the new butterfly, such as wings and antennas. The original caterpillar cells slowly wither away as they are overrun by the new, fresh imaginal cells. The caterpillar becomes a butterfly.
Human beings, in general, are not good with change. We as a society fear something that would completely shift our paradigms and proceed to attack it viciously. Throughout history, ideas that would shake the foundations of society were often challenged and oppressed: the concept that the Earth is round, that the Earth revolves around the Sun or that we are the product of millions of years of evolution. These “imaginal cells” of society such as Charles Darwin and Galileo Galilei were faced with criticism, mocking and even punishment by those who could not accept the fact that what we know can be wrong. However, their ideas spread among like-minded people, until the number of people who believed in these new ideas greatly outweighed the people who did not. This is how society evolves and metamorphosed over time.
Change is difficult and scary, whether you are on the receiving end or on the side trying to change the world. Being the first imaginal cells of society is a painful road one to travel, but the effects of your actions can cause ripples throughout society to change the world for the better. Or perhaps you are experiencing change at a more personal scale, with your traditional way of life being threatened by some new force. But no matter what the change is – for better or for worse – you will adapt and society will adapt. Great ideas persevere and change for the better is inevitable.
There is no reason to be afraid, for everything is and will be okay.
If I was to put a yellow ball in front of you and ask what colour the ball is, you would confidently say “yellow”. As you say, the ball appears yellow, but the answer is technically wrong. Strictly speaking, the ball itself is not yellow – it is merely reflecting the colour yellow. The ball only appears yellow because we see the yellow part of the natural light spectrum bouncing off the ball. We cannot say that the essence of the ball is “yellow”. For example, if you were to look at the ball through a red lens, the yellow light would be filtered and you would see a black ball. A person with a certain kind of colour blindness would say the ball has a bluish hue. A butterfly, which sees the ultraviolet spectrum as well, would see a colour we cannot even name.
Human beings judge objects using the vision. We describe an object as we see it and store that information in our brain to define the object. For this purpose, the fact that a colour blind person or a butterfly sees the ball a different colour is irrelevant to us. All we need to know is that object appears yellow to us. But this is only the case for objects. Let us imagine the ball is a person. If everyone in the world sees you as a yellow ball, would that make you a yellow ball? Of course not. However, people worry too much about how others see them. Although other people’s perception does not change our true nature in the slightest, we even go as far as erasing or abandoning our nature to look good in front of another person. Thus, whether our essence is white, black, red, blue or technicolour, when others see us as yellow, we have a tendency to try desperately to become yellow.
If the world says you are a yellow ball, act crazy and be a red ball. There is not a single reason you should have to hide your true nature. Have confidence in your essence. There is nothing wrong with that.
Zhuangzi was a philosopher whose writings are still famous for their deep and influential thoughts. The following is one of the most famous stories he tells, questioning the concept of reality and mind:
One day I dreamt that I was a butterfly, flying freely and doing what I pleased, without knowing that I was Zhuangzi.
But when I woke up, I was Zhuangzi without a doubt.
So did Zhuangzi dream of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming of being Zhuangzi?